The St. Louis Blues lost a big part of their championship team when Alexander Steen announced his retirement. Like many, his career was not all peaches and cream.
When the St. Louis Blues acquired Alex Steen, it mainly drew some shoulder shrugs from most St. Louis Blues fans. He had a couple 40-plus point seasons by then, but had never scored more than 18 goals.
Initially, it seemed as though Carlo Colaiacovo was going to be the bigger acquisition in that deal that sent Lee Stempniak to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Colaiacovo was a grinder defender, giving the Blues more depth at that spot. Plus, Steen only scored six goals and 24 points in 61 games after the trade that year.
The next season, he set a then-career high with 24 goals and 47 points. Steen would later eclipse those numbers in 2013-14 and 2014-15, when he had 33 goals and 67 points in those respective seasons.
Yet, it was never really numbers that defined Steen. The guy was often a workhorse. He had seven consecutive seasons where he averaged between 19 and 20 minutes
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During the Blues run to the Western Conference Final in 2016, Ken Hitchcock called Steen the team’s best player. He certainly was the team’s best defensive player during that playoff run.
Steen was often used against the opponent’s top scorers. We often hear about what defensive pair plays in those situations, but you cannot discount the physicality and grit Steen brought against Chicago, Dallas and San Jose.
What became interesting about that quote given by Hitchcock was that the pair had a rather tumultuous relationship. That might be putting it lightly.
By now, the temperament of Hitchcock is well known by most Blues fans. He was not exactly a player favorite.
This was his style. He had a fiery temper and, though he had calmed somewhat by the time he came to St. Louis, he often rubbed players the wrong way.
Brendan Morrow recently told a story about how only Brett Hull could stop Hitchcock from yelling at Morrow during a game. Hitchcock was there to get the most out of players, which he often did, not make friends.
While Hitch did not have the legendary moment that Herb Brooks did, they often went down the same path. They were confident in their system and if they were united against the coach, at least they were united.
Steen fell into the category of being rubbed the wrong way by Hitchcock. However, later on, it became heavily implied that Steen was more than just bothered. There were more than enough rumors to believe the smoke led to fire regarding Steen being one of the spearheads trying to get Hitchcock removed.
This was not a one time thing either. Some players wanted Hitch out prior to the year they went to the conference final and then forced the issue further when the team was struggling the following season.
Ultimately, you cannot say that did not work for the franchise since Mike Yeo’s failure led to Craig Berube being hired and then a Stanley Cup. Nevertheless, it has never sat well with me that any player, especially one that many regard as a team leader, would actively try to get their coach fired.
Hitchcock was one of the most successful Blues coaches in team history, but at times we need to tell ourselves we were not in that room, so we have no idea how bad things were.
Another problem Steen may have presented is that there seemed to be a fractured locker room when Alex Pietrangelo was named captain. Whether Steen thought he deserved it or simply people that were more friendly with him did, there was a clear divide.
That was one thing that made Berube’s guidance to the Stanley Cup even more impressive. He immediately put his foot down and said there was none of this Team Steen vs. Team Petro nonsense. They were all team Blues. Again, that situation was never clear whether Steen had much involvement other than perhaps thinking he would be captain, but it still affected the team’s play – that and Yeo’s poor system.
The counter argument to Steen not getting along with the coaching staff or management is that he was a great example that all players should follow. He was a consummate team player, putting the needs of the group above his own, at least when on the ice.
Steen went from a middle-six role player to someone the Blues could rely on in a top-six role, because he complimented his teammates and could produce. When numbers started falling off, and Berube asked, Steen accepted a fourth-line role and it benefited him and the team. Less ice time meant less punishment and he could go harder each shift.
As his body began to fail, Steen still adapted. He changed his diet and lifestyle without making a big deal of it, which allowed him to squeak out those extra years. When he had back issues that would keep most guys out for weeks, he would get as much treatment as he needed to get on the ice. Though it likely killed him to stay off the ice, he never went to the media and whined his case or made excuses why he was not playing.
If that’s the Steen we remember, it would all be golden. Like any human, there are things that happen in a career or life that muddy the waters though.
Steen’s fans are die-hard and don’t like hearing negative things said. They have no reason to defend the man because there is nothing wrong with liking him.
To deny that he might have been involved in shady or juvenile actions behind the scenes is to wear Steen-tinted glasses though. Nobody is perfect.
My favorite athletes growing up were Michael Jordan and Patrick Roy. I worshiped the ground they walked on. Acknowledging their faults, of which there were apparently many, doesn’t change how I felt personally.
More Blues fans need to take that path. Steen was no angel and leaves a complicated legacy. However, that does not mean we should not still remember him fondly for what he gave to this franchise and the big role he played in guiding the Blues to their first Stanley Cup.